The Heart of the Dragon

Beijing’s appeal lies in its many contrasts: its six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the grand scale of its monuments, the tiny ancient alleyways crossing the city center, and the modern, cosmopolitan appeal of its booming arts scene. There’s never a shortage of things to see and do in Beijing; rather, the challenge is finding time to fit them all in.

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Magnificent Sights

The most popular of all the attractions in Beijing is undoubtedly the Forbidden City, known officially as the Palace Museum. The biggest palace complex in the world, it covers 180 acres with 800 buildings. Home to generations of emperors, its highlights are myriad, but make sure you see the Hall of Supreme Harmony, housing the emperor’s Dragon Throne; the Gate of Heavenly Peace, with its Tiananmen Square views; and the impeccably landscaped Imperial Gardens. Fans of Chinese art should allow time for the priceless works of art that include ceramics, calligraphy and bronzes.

Just across the road from the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square is the logical next stop and one of the top things to see in Beijing. It’s vast – this is the largest public square in the world – and bursting with historic significance. This is where Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, for one. It’s also home to an enormous portrait of Mao, the Memorial Hall where his body is displayed, and the National Museum of China. This impressive museum has over two million square feet of exhibition space; don’t miss the ancient bronze and jade artefacts as well as any temporary art exhibits – they’re world-class.
If you’re an early riser and want to know what to do in Beijing at dawn, you can watch Tiananmen’s uniformed guards march in perfect time to the national anthem and raise the Chinese flag as the sun rises.

One of the best things to do in Beijing during your stay is a visit to the Great Wall. The Mutianyu section can be reached on a day trip, about an hour away by car. Although it’s a little farther away than the heavily restored Badaling section, it has far fewer tourists and a cable car that lifts you to the highest restored section of the wall (or you can hike up here if you prefer). From there, you can embark on an hour-and-a-half walk east to take the best advantage of the incredible sight of the wall winding its way into the distance over hills and valleys. Ride the cable car back down if you wish, or you can take one of the toboggans, which get you to the bottom even faster and with a lot more fun.

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